The Programmatic Baby Must Survive the Emptying of the Bathwater

We have been following all the news about fake news, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the elections. It has produced a major backlash against media technology.  But part of the problem is not attributable to advertising at all, because it has to do with media illiteracy on the part of the consumer.  If consumers are loath to examine the provenance of what they’re seeing and reading, it’s probably not digital media’s fault. But there is still a large piece of this problem that’s directly attributable to programmatic advertising.

Yes, we know we have our origins in ad tech, but we long ago realized we have to do more than be an intermediary that takes a piece of a transaction. We had to bring some actual value to the table, and after flirting with viewability as our unique selling proposition, we decided  to take it a step further and attack the problem of ad fraud from all sides. This was after about four years of membership and engagement in the Online Trust Association, which is now part of the Internet Society. A moment of gratitude for the tutelage of Craig Spiezle.

We had shifted well before the election, and decided we would sell security.. We became a niche player in the world of private platforms, where we could control both ends of the ecosystem, and not have to risk accusations of serving malware, stacking up ads that weren’t viewable, and allowing phishing domains.

So now, as Facebook and Google and Twitter testify before Congress about how they could have sold ads to Russian operatives whose objectives were to destabilize Western democracy, we do not have to be concerned that we’ll end up in the middle of this discussion because an ad we served from a third party exchange came from a troll farm.

We’re hoping that all this controversy doesn’t force the industry to move away from programmatic, which has become a huge workflow enabler. much of the data was seek cannot be arrived at through the old methods, because humans don’t scale the way computers do. Nevertheless, here is somethings  think about: In the TV industry, there’s a function at every station called “Standards and Practices,” where ads have to pass through to see if they conform to the stations standards. Because of this department at CNN, a Trump ad about fake news featuring CNN’s own anchors was returned to its creators with the stipulation that CNN would not run the ad unless those anchors were taken out of the ad.

But TV is moving toward programmatic buying and selling. If that happens, what will happen to the Standards and Practices step in the process of airing an ad? Unless we can figure out how to write algorithms that understand ethics, we will lose this important component of the ad buying process and television ads will begin to look like online ads.

Which is only to say that online ads should probably admit some human intervention during the media buying process, if only during the political season.